Wednesday, October 29, 2008

IMSLP and international copyrights

While digging through the links in a so-far fruitless search for evidence that the Worldscape Laptop Orchestra still exists, I ran across an interesting blog on music, hosted by the University of California at San Diego. Along with posts on local goings on and stuff like cool-looking random musical instruments, it contained this interesting/alarming post on IMSLP (the International Music Score Library Project).

This site was basically a carefully-moderated wiki to which people could upload music scores. The Canadian administrator of the Canadian-hosted site had been very careful only to put up scores in the Canadian public domain, and the Canadian Supreme Court had ruled that such sites are entitled to presume that they are being used in a lawful manner.

Austrian music publisher Universal Edition sued on the grounds that it had put up works (it didn't say which particular ones) still under European copyright. At stake, then, is the question of whose copyright law applies: the host or administrator's or (effectively) the longest copyright period on the books anywhere. The situation seems entirely analogous to that of international libel laws.

As a result of the suit, the site was taken down in October 2007. At this writing, the IMSLP is back up, having been put back up in June 2008. The re-opening letter accompanying the re-launch is well worth reading. Among other things, it discusses (and endorses) the idea of collaborating with commercial music publishers.

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